A boring textbook exercise? Turn it to your advantage!

This lesson is a classic example of how the teacher can elaborate on a boring, monotonous textbook exercise. This activity will gradually develop from a traditional ‘pen and paper’ approach into a more ‘modern’ one using technology. Below there’s a gap-fill exercise adapted from New Hotline Elementary Workbook. It’s focus is the past simple vs. past continuous contrast. Students usually fill in the exercise as their homework or individually in the lesson.

Every Wednesday, Rebecca Lanson plays tennis. Yesterday Rebecca ………. home from tennis, when ………. some earrings in a jeweller’s shop window. She ………. her sports bag. When she ………. the earrings, she ………. to look at them. While she ………. there, a robber ………. of the shop. When she ………. him, she ………. round. As the thief ………. past her, he ………. the handle of her tennis racket. Two policemen ………. to a boy in the street, when the robbery ………. . When the thief ………., the two policemen ………. him.

(Answers: was coming, saw, was carrying, saw, stopped, was standing, ran out, saw, turned, was running, fell over, were talking, happened, fell over, fell over, arrested)
Step 1:

1) After you have checked the answers with the class, ask them to close their books.
2) Tell your Ss they’re going to turn the story into a comic. Give Ss a large piece of blank paper and start dictating the sentences slowly. The Ss draw pictures as you speak. Ask them to draw quick sketches, not elaborate images. If you pause after each sentence, it’s manageable for the students to keep up.
3) When they finish, ask them to compare their work. This is the moment when students laugh and have fun.
4) Get them to work in pairs and retell the story from memory using their comics.
5) As a follow up task, Ss write the story down (either collaboratively or individually, either in class or at home).
6) Ss compare their story with the original one and make corrections, if necessary.

Step 2:
Introduce Ss to Bubblr. This is a place where they can create their own comics online. Now you can ask your students to make Rebecca’s story above into an online comic or you can ask them to make a brand-new story using the past simple and past continuous. This online tool is dead simple and fun. All the students will need to do is drag and click. They choose their own pictures to match the story and add bubbles and titles. The more advanced the students, the more elaborate the text will get.

Finally, these are some of the stories my young pre-intermediate students have recently created: http://padlet.com/wall/3015ndxxj

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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5 Responses to A boring textbook exercise? Turn it to your advantage!

  1. Walton says:

    I love any exercise that makes a textbook exercise fun. I like how the drawing correctly also depends on them understanding the differences between the tenses.


  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your comment, Walton. Yes, the past continuous vs. past simple contrast is quite difficult to grasp, at least for Czech students, so I believe any exercise that makes the difference clearer comes in handy.


  3. Debbie says:

    Dear Hana,
    I'm so sure learning is enjoyable in your classes! Thanks for sharing this idea. We are about to finish classes but I'd like to try your lesson next time we deal with simple past and past continuous.
    Adapting textbook material is a nice challenge. You are so creative.


  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks Debbie. I'm flattered that you think of trying out one of my ideas because you are such an inspiring educator.


  5. Pingback: #200 | How I see it now

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